"I'd not noticed any changes in my sight and by the time I saw an optician I'd already lost some of my peripheral vision without realising. "
Phil Richardson, project manager N-Vision
A project manager with a leading local sight loss support charity is backing the global campaign for greater awareness of glaucoma – and calling for more of us to halt the sneak thief of sight through a simple eye test.
Phil Richardson, 60, who works for N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, as a project manager and outreach worker, was diagnosed with glaucoma 22 years ago.
Phil admits that if his wife Mary hadn’t noticed him squinting when reading he might have never visited an optician for a sight test.
“I’d never worn glasses previously, I didn’t think I needed them.”
Too many turn what could become a blind eye to glaucoma, one of the commonest causes of avoidable sight loss in the UK.
Mostly associated with the build-up of fluid leading to high pressure in the eye, it affects around 70m people worldwide.
Left untreated it can damage the optic nerve, leading to sight loss. Advanced, it’s irreversible.
It already affects more than 500k people in the UK.
Few realise they are developing glaucoma because there are no early symptoms.
World Glaucoma Week is out to raise awareness.
N-Vision supports several thousand severely sight impaired (blind) and visually impaired people in all three local boroughs. Many have glaucoma, says the charity's eye clinic liaison officer Linda Sethi (pictured).
Phil’s work takes him out into the community to support and help people, including with benefits, running the charity’s network of café clubs to curb social isolation and boost awareness, involving more in the Talking Newspaper, and other projects. He says the impact of sight loss can be seismic.
Phil stresses that a routine eye test could spot the signs of glaucoma faster.
First line treatment usually takes the form of eyedrops to reduce the watery fluid in the eye.
If the drops don’t work – or glaucoma is more advanced – laser surgery can improve the drainage channels.
Surgical intervention often takes the form of a trabeculectomy – which creates a small flap on the top of the eyeball with a drainage hole beneath to allow fluid to flow out.
Phil required incisional surgery in one eye. Within six months he had a trabeculectomy to lower the intraocular pressure, surgery with a high success rate.
Phil has also been on a range of eye drops. Last summer he had two further procedures under local anaesthetic. He’s just been told he will be able to stop the eye drops next month.
“I’m thrilled,” he admits. “It will be the first time in 22 years that I won’t have to take them. If you’re diagnosed you must be vigilant with your eye drops and use them as prescribed.
“Glaucoma creeps up on you.
“I’d not noticed any changes in my sight and by the time I saw an optician I’d already lost some of my peripheral vision without realising. I can’t stress how important it is to have regular eye tests.
“If it’s detected early, then something can be done in order to manage the condition
“You may need to make some changes in your lifestyle but it’s worth it.
“And don’t be afraid. The eye clinic at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals is wonderful and despite being a very busy department I have always had an excellent patient experience.”
The team is one of the busiest in the North West right across the range of sight loss and related procedures. It also includes one surgeon who decided, at six, to become an eye surgeon after his dad, at 42, lost his sight suddenly to acute angle closure glaucoma.
Phil is hopeful of new treatments in the future. In the last 22 years he’s seen drug advances and less-invasive surgical procedures.
Much of the new thinking is around faster intervention and early stage therapies before a visual field test detects impaired vision, in order to rescue and repair nerve cells. A recent trial looked at neuro-regeneration rather than protection.
Last summer a 73 year old retired nurse from Freckleton was the first to be given a new eyeWatch implant for glaucoma under an 18-month clinical trial at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital. The surgery was carried out by Mr Leon Au, consultant ophthalmic surgeon, who likened the intricate Swiss mechanism to a “tap” in the eye, the flow of eye fluids adjusted by magnet pen to reduce under or over drainage.
THE EYE CLINIC LIAISON OFFICER
N-Vision’s eye clinic liaison officer Linda Sethi, pictured above, who divides her time between the charity and Blackpool Victoria Hospital, supported Phil through recent treatments. “He’s an amazing colleague. This is part of it – don’t glaucoma steal your way of life. We have many clients who have glaucoma and we are here to support them.
“World Glaucoma Week and national events are essential in raising awareness of the importance of taking care of yourselves.
“Glaucoma is more common than many realise.
“You are more at risk if a close blood relative already has glaucoma, if you are diabetic or if you have used steroids for a long time.
“Glaucoma affects your peripheral vision first, which is the vision to the sides and up and down.
“It’s what you use for getting around without bumping into things or missing that bottom step off the stairs.
“Glaucoma can lead to permanent loss of vision if it isn’t diagnosed and treated early.
“Sight loss can slowly progress so that your field of vision becomes so narrow it is like you are looking through a tunnel - and if left untreated your central vision would be affected.
“If you do notice any symptoms these may include blurred vision or rainbow coloured circles around bright lights.
“A regular sight test every two years is so important as glaucoma can be detected during this simple routine.
“We all lead busy lives and our health is so important. Taking just half an hour to see a high street optician is something we should all be doing.
“Your eyes are the window to your soul as so many other health conditions can be detected such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“Having an eye test every two years – or more frequently if advised - can ensure healthy eyes and keep a check on your general health too.
“If you haven’t seen an optician, make it a priority to book an appointment today. If you have any doubts, book an appointment."
Anyone who is newly diagnosed and would like further information or support please contact the Low Vision Centre on 01253 362696.
Stats and facts
- Glaucoma has been described as the sneak thief of sight. It affects two per cent of the population in the UK over 40.
- In England 480,000 people have the most common form of glaucoma – chronic open angle glaucoma. It affects one in 50 people who are over 40 and increases to one in 10 over the age of 75.
- There are four main types of glaucoma: primary open angle glaucoma (the most common type), primary/acute angle closure glaucoma (which may be chronic or develop rapidly), secondary glaucoma (as a result of another eye condition or eye injury) and developmental (congenital) glaucoma, usually present at birth or developing soon after.
- Deteriorating vision can cost of your driving licence if your visual field falls below the DLVA’s legal limit.